Woman in a mask holding up a syringe.

COVID Anti-Vaxxers Now Affecting ALL of Tennessee’s Adolescent Vaccine Outreach

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Pressure has forced the hand of The Tennessee Department of Health when it comes to vaccines, and it’s a really troubling indication of just how far anti-vaxxers have gotten. According to the Tennessean and internal reports, the department “will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach”—and we’re not just talking about COVID-19 vaccine outreach. We’re talking about all diseases that have vaccines that have become routine for people, particularly adolescents, to take.

The Department of Health, for its part, cites COVID-19-driven vaccine hesitancy (which, let’s be real, has been driven by the bad-faith politicization of the vaccine) as the reason for changes in policy, but says that they’re not ending outreach altogether—just that they’re moving away from certain tactics that may exacerbate vaccine hesitancy. They told Fox 17 News,

TDH understands the importance of childhood immunizations and has not shuttered efforts for childhood immunizations.


Being a trustworthy messenger means we are mindful of hesitancy and the intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general. That is why we pursued an initial round of market research regarding vaccine hesitancy and why we are planning another round of market research to understand how Tennesseans feel as this process evolves. We recognize that childhood immunization rates dropped during the pandemic, but we are already seeing vaccination rates rebound to pre-pandemic levels and are confident parents will close those gaps for their children.

Tennessee is on solid footing when it comes to childhood immunizations and will continue to keep information and programming in place for parents. We are simply mindful of how certain tactics could hurt that progress.

However, with the top vaccine official at the department, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, recently being fired, which she says happened due to her efforts to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s a little hard to take this at face value.  And even still, changing strategy in the face of increased vaccine hesitancy may be for the best, but it’s alarming that we’ve even gotten to the point where that may be necessary.

The Tennessean reports, based on “an internal report and agency emails” that they obtained, that COVID-19 vaccine events on school property will be halted and teens will no longer get direct notifications about their second COVID-19 vaccine does, instead routing that information through their parents. And, if the department does send any vaccine outreach information, “staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents.”

After the health department’s internal COVID-19 report was circulated on Friday, the rollback of vaccine outreach was further detailed in a Monday email from agency Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones.

Jones told staff they should conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine.”

Staff were also told not to do any “pre-planning” for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.

“Any kinds of informational sheets or other materials that we make available for dissemination should have the TDH logo removed,” Jones wrote. (Tennessean)

Personally, I find even the stripping of the logo to be just as dangerous as not disseminating information about life-saving vaccines, because not only is the state taking away the department’s ability to keep its citizens safe from commonplace diseases that have vaccines, they’re taking away their authority. Basically, Republican pressure has made it so any notice the department does send looks like it’s not from an authoritative source and increases the chances of it just being chucked in the trash and ignored.

As for stopping direct notices to teens about their COVID vaccine doses, according to CNN, Republicans are apparently worried about “parental authority” being undermined, purportedly why any reminders will be sent to adults, as a means of avoiding anything that could be interpreted as solicitation to minors.

Again, this news comes just as a top Tennessee official was fired for her “efforts to get teens vaccinated,” according to NBC. Dr. Michelle Fiscus was fired from her Department of Health role as the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs. In an interview with MSNBC, she said that her job was to “roll out the COVID-19 vaccine” across the state and that her firing is due to her doing her job as described.

Fiscus went on to explain to NBC that tension with GOP lawmakers was at the heart of her firing and this decision by the Tennessee government in the first place. And this comes at a time when only 38% of the state is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and only 42% have at least received one dose, according to USA Facts. A divide amongst the state is the last thing they need, especially with the rising of cases across the state.

Unity and a shift towards making science-based decisions are what this state needs, rather than allowing the anti-vaccine movement to gain ground, and they need it now as a means of keeping all of their citizens safe in 2021.


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Lyra Hale
Lyra (She/Her) is a queer Latinx writer who stans badass women in movies, TV shows, and books. She loves crafting, tostones, and speculating all over queer media. And when not writing she's scrolling through TikTok or rebuilding her book collection.